Kit Palmer | October 2, 2022
Cycle News Archives
When the Motocross des Nations Nearly Didn’t Happen
There have been so many memorable moments in the 75-year history of the Motocross des Nations, or we must say of Nations now, that it’s impossible to remember all of them. But I think you know what I mean. However, there was one Motocross des Nations that pretty much everyone would just as soon forget, but I’ll remind them anyway—it happened 20 years ago, just two years before Chase Sexton’s third birthday.
In 2002, the U.S. was set to host the MXdN (what it was called at that time) for only the second time ever, the first was Unadilla in 1987. You might remember Unadilla as a fantastic race, with Bob Hannah coming out of retirement to ride a 125cc alongside Jeff Ward (500cc) and Rick Johnson (250cc). Hannah, the “old guy,” surprisingly chosen over then current 125cc National MX Champion, Micky Dymond, ended up kicking butt on his screaming little Suzuki RM125, and Team USA went on to win in the wet and mud of Upstate New York. And it was when Americans were introduced to Jean-Michel Bayle, the young Frenchman who impressed the world that day and became a two-time AMA Motocross and one-time AMA Supercross Champion, and, of course, a world-class road racer for a brief time.
Unadilla was indeed a memorable race in MXdN history, but this was not the case the next time the race would come to America. Well, at least tried to come to America.
When it was announced March 27, 2002, that the Motocross des Nations was planning to revisit the U.S. later that year after the previous track in Europe suddenly backed out of hosting it, American fans were thrilled to hear the news. But everyone was surprised when they heard the venue that the FIM had chosen to host the race—Competition Park, a small little-known track in San Jacinto, California. “Competition, what?” That was most people’s reaction to the news. This would be like giving golf’s President Cup to your local community golf course. A few Southern California motocrossers knew the place. It was a small facility built on an old dairy farm. However, little to most people’s knowledge, a new and much larger Competition Park was already being planned for the MXdN and would be maintained thereafter for local racing. The promotors had recently given up their lease on the original site knowing a new and improved one was in the works.
The new Competition Park, also known as “Comp Park II,” was located on the Soboba Mission Band of Indians Reservation six miles from the original track but was far from completed when the news broke. So, the FIM and Dorna, the European promotion company that, at the time, owned the rights to the MXdN (and MXGP, MotoGP, etc.), had essentially selected a track to host its beloved race that didn’t even exist! Very strange. And to make things even more head-scratching, the new Competition Park track didn’t really seem like the ideal place to host a world-class race of this magnitude. The track was being built on a 60-acre unappealing parcel of flat land, out in the middle of “nowhere,” that barely seemed suitable to host a decent-size local race, let alone the MXdN. At least that’s what it seemed, but, hey, it wasn’t finished yet. Give them a chance, right?
So why did the FIM choose Competition Park over more attractive facilities like Budds Creek, RedBud, Washougal, or even Glen Helen? Good question, because it was reported that these tracks didn’t want to pay the rumored $650,000 sanctioning fee, nor did Jorge Jobe—the former MX World Champion who initially stepped in to promote the 2002 MXdN in Spa, Belgium—or anyone else in Europe for that matter. So, the FIM and Dorna were seemingly desperate to find a track for the rapidly approaching September 29 MXdN race. The Comp Park promoters stepped up to the plate and were granted permission by the FIM to host the MXdN—with a significantly reduced sanctioning fee of approximately $125,000, it was reported.
And to make things even weirder, the AMA was never involved in all this stuff since the FIM chose to go over the AMA’s head and deal directly with the promoters of the track. The FIM and AMA were feuding about other issues at the time. Remember the original World Supercross Championship?
At this point, the race seemed doable. The track opened for practice on September 3, approximately three months behind schedule and less than a month before the MXdN race, but people thought, well, this might work out after all.
Unfortunately, with the controversial race already on shaky ground, things took a nosedive when a rider was killed while practicing on the new track. To make matters worse, the rider was a key member of the Soboba Mission Band of Indians, which hit the community hard. Plus, the tribe was not thrilled by the dust—which supposedly clogged the air-conditioners of the nearby casinos—and the noise and traffic that came with the track. Four days later, during a previously scheduled tribal council meeting, many in attendance, who most likely knew very little about motocross or the MXdN but knew plenty about the dust, noise, traffic and the death of one of its own, voted to close the facility. On September 19, 10 days before the MXdN race, all activities, including construction at the track site, were ordered to cease operation by the tribe. The facility was locked up for good on September 20, 2002.
There wasn’t anything the promoters could do about it. They had signed a “management agreement” (meaning the promoters didn’t “own” the land) with some of the members of the tribe, and the agreement would see the two groups develop and maintain the property for use as an MX park for supposedly the next 20 years, and in return, the tribe members would get paid. Unfortunately for the promoters, when things went awry, the tribal council had the final say, and since Indian ground is also on federal land, California State laws do not apply. The Indians had spoken, which they had the right to do; after all, it’s their land. This is the risk you take when doing business on Indian land.
So, who was at fault? Well, it’s hard to point fingers at the promoters for at least trying to bring the MXdN to the U.S. again or the Indians for not liking what was going down on their property. Or the AMA that had no say in it all. Perhaps, you can blame the FIM/Dorna for simply choosing a track that didn’t exist just a few months out from their big race and not conferring with the AMA. The FIM eventually found a track to host the race just a few days after the Competition Park lockdown.
The 2002 MXdN was rescheduled to October, in Italy, but many teams chose not to go or now couldn’t participate logistically anymore, including Team USA. It didn’t help that Ricky Carmichael’s wedding was already planned for October. This was the second year in a row that the U.S. would not compete in the MXdN because of 9/11 the year before.
To help make up for the Comp Park debacle, Glen Helen Raceway, on a week’s notice mind you, offered to host a makeshift MXdN called the World Cup of Motocross on the original MXdN date (September 29). After all, some of the riders and teams were already here for the MXdN. It was a successful weekend of international racing, but it wasn’t the MXdN. Team Australia won with riders Chad Reed, Craig Anderson and Michael Byrne. Team USA, made up of Tim Ferry, Sean Hambli and Kyle Lewis, was second.
And what about the real MXdN that year? Well, the Chamberlain Trophy didn’t have to travel far with home team Italy— Andrea Bartolini, Alessio Chiodi, and Alessandro Puzar—taking the win.
Here’s to RedBud 20 years later and more new Motocross of Nations memories and hopefully all good memories, like Team USA winning on home soil. CN
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